How to Read a Wordless Book: Shaun Tan's The Arrival

Background Information on this Project

Using the beautifully illustrated book by Shaun Tan, The Arrival, as a springboard, learners will learn how to "read" a wordless book. The beauty of wordless books, especially one as intricate as The Arrival, is that the illustrations can be read with varying breadths and depths of exploration and understanding, which makes them appropriate for readers of all ages.

The Arrival is a story about immigration and finding a new home in a place that is so very different from one's homeland that is quite literally alien to the mind and senses. The author, Shaun Tan's own father was an immigrant from Malaysia who came to Australia to study architecture. Shaun Tan initially intended The Arrival to be a children's book, but it took on a life of its own. The book took five years to create, and the final format is more of a graphic novel than a children's picture book. The Arrival is a completely wordless book, but the story has the power to speak to anyone who has the honor of reading it.

While the main focus of this project (which I've created for my High Tech Learning SLIS Course which was designed by Dr. Annette Lamb) is on how to read a book that has no words, as an extension, I have presented ideas on how to extend the reading of The Arrival into an exploration of the topic of past, present, and virtual immigrants.

I have designed this blog portion of this project to be aimed at a young adult learning audience (middle school-aged or high school-aged). However, the Resources portion of this wiki will, hopefully, allow for ample flexibility in adapting it to any group of learners. As I will touch upon in more depth below, wordless books are especially valuable in teaching reading skills to ESL students.

About this Wiki and the Accompanying Blog (Reading Wordless Books):

Need, Anticipated Audience, and Final Product

As I alluded to above, I have aimed to make this project adaptable for teachers who might wish to use it in a classroom setting. However, I envision this project as one that could be utilized in a library setting or any informal learning setting, as well. The age group I have envisioned is middle school/high school-aged young adults, but I believe you will find it is easily adaptable for nearly any age group. The process of reading wordless books can be approached with varying scrutiny for any age group, and the extension topic of immigration is one that is appropriate for any age group, as well. The Resources portion of this wiki should aid any learning facilitator in making the necessary adaptations.

For younger learners, ESL learners, and older learners who struggle with reading, visual literacy skills can provide clues for corresponding text, if any. Additionally, skills used in visual literacy can later be useful in reading comprehension of written text (Samuels).

As for the extension topic of the experiences of immigrants, obviously, the issue of Mexican immigrants entering the United States is a hot media topic, especially in a time when we are so close to a presidential election. The issue of immigration in general is so very complex. Despite this fact, in the current media climate, we are fed information as if it were very cut and dry.

While I wouldn't even try to present answers or definitive conclusions regarding the topic of immigration, it is the very process of exploring the topic of immigration that, I hope, will open the minds and hearts of learners who might not have considered the complexities of the issue.

Since it was my desire to steer the focus toward on the process of learning rather than upon an "end product" I chose a final tangible creation that is an open interpretation of the learning experience itself.

Specifically, the "end product" I've envisioned was an insight I had after coming across a reference about a collaborative artpiece by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol called "Ten Punching Bags, 1985-86." I feel that a collaborative product is appropriate since the process of dialog and exchange of ideas is the focus of the extension topic in the first place. To take this a bit further, sharing the collaborative art creation with the virtual world by using Artsonia,, or, would further enhance the learning experience. Or perhaps sharing the collaborative art creation with the real world might appeal to certain learners--if so, try using FoundArt!

Technologies Incorporated, Considerations, and Potential Issues

  1. Wikispaces: To document the "technical aspects" of this project, including the introduction and teacher resources. A wiki is quick and easy to edit, which is appealing to me for this aspect of my project.
  2. Free WordPress Blog: To demonstrate the execution of this project idea, I've created a blog (versus a static website or the use of a wiki, etc.) since dialog and ongoing contribution/collaboration/synergy is a major theme of the topic/subtopics addressed in this project.
    1. Potential Issues Relating to the Use of Blogs with Learners:
    2. Some of the issues that come to mind at first have to do with students have easy access to a computer with an internet connection--and preferably one at home. In a classroom or learning situation where this is simply not the case, a dialogue-heavy blog such as the one I've created would not be a viable tool for recapping classwork, outlining homework, and even providing the format for which the students are to post their homework.
    3. On the other hand, there are issues of legal liability that should be considered, as well. In the article, "Student Blogs Mark a New Frontier for School Discipline," Elizabeth Kirby and Brenda Kaillio mostly address blogs that students have created on their which become an issue in various ways in the school environment. For instance, schools must be cognizant of their responsibilities when it is revealed that students have made threatening or illegal statements in their personal blogs. The article examines some case law to provide some context on this murky issue, concluding that: "To date, case law continues to assert that students have not lost their constitutional rights to free speech and that administrators may not punish students for personal speech that occurs off school property unless the speech has a disrupting influence on the school....One of the many roles principals assume in today's educational environment is that of technology leader. In this role, school administrators will need to take a proactive stance to guide teachers and students on how blogs can serve as effective educational tools. They will also need to lead the way in educating staff members and students on using technology within the boundaries of the law...As blogs and other new technologies emerge, it is essential that education leaders familiarize themselves, their staff members, and their students with the legal liability issues that may arise when technology is used inappropriately," (22-23).
  3. Audacity: I've used Audacity for audioclips I integrated into 2 of my blog entries (Connecting with Immigration in the Present features my audioclip on using visual literacy skills with "The Story of the Giants" illustration from The Arrival; Connecting with Immigration in the Past features my audioclip on using visual literacy skills with a photograph of Ellis Island and audioclips of an interview with an Irish immigrant.
    1. I hosted my audio files at
  4. Second Life: To experience immigration in a virtual environment, I featured the use of a presentation of a trip to Ellis Island in Second Life (via a projector screen due to the fact that you need to be 18 or older to use Second Life versus having students directly participate)--Connection: Virtual Immigration.
    1. Potential Issues Relating to the Use of Blogs with Learners:
    2. As with blogs, some of the most obvious issues relating to SL have to do with the "digital divide." Not only would one need a computer with internet access, but the computer would need to be a newish one with lots of memory and the internet connection cannot be dial-up in order to run SL. In addition, SL is for people 18 and older, minor students cannot personally participate in the classroom. A projector is one option for demonstration purposes, however. On the other hand, Teen Second Life is only for minors, therefore, the teacher could not register, but could supervise students directly using TSL.
    3. Allison Fass, in her article, "Sex, Pranks and Reality," (focusing on the uncertain climate of SL for real world marketers trying to make money in SL) points out another potential issue: other avatars are not governed by school rules. Fass writes, "It turns out that avatars seem more interested in having sex and hatching pranks than spending time warming up to real-world brands...Earlier this year an S&M sex parlor, opened by a naughty Second Life visitor, carried the NBC Universal name. Around the same time political bloggers caught "Bush '08"-tag-wearing vandals defacing former senator John Edwards' Second Life headquarters with excrement and covering his photo in blackface. And there is still a twittering among online gawkers about the flying penises that interrupted a virtual interview between a CNET reporter and Anshe Chung, the Second Life name for Ailin Graef, who buys and sells Second Life real estate on the site. Such antics are called "griefing" in Second Life parlance." I suppose to counter this, a learning facilitator would need to explain to students the possibility of such a disruption in the classroom demonstration. Secondly, there should be a contingency plan in place in case such an event does occur; that is, a quick way to turn off the projector if need be, for instance. Lastly, I would assume letters to parents and permission slips would be preliminary steps prior to SL demonstrations in the classroom.
  5. Virtual Field Trips: While the springboard for this project is a print book, The Arrival, I integrated the use of many websites, including a virtual field trip to Ellis Island designed by refer to Connecting with Immigration in the Past
  6. PowerPoint Presentation: For the blog entry Getting More Connected, I featured a lesson starter/visual literacy tool.
    1. I hosted my PowerPoint starter at This is yet another option for hosting files online for free.
    2. I referred to the use of a USB Memory Stick for saving the completed PowerPoint activity and bringing the file to class for the next session. These handy tools are pretty cheap (I've found deals online through where I've made $8-10 by using rebates and codes), they're portable, and they are quite durable. However, apparently, all flash drives are limited to being re-written only X amount of times (mid-range flash drives may last up to several thousand times), and they are relatively easy to misplace. Personally, I own 3 and I think they are cute and very practical. Plus, I've got an fm-transmitter for my car lighter that I can plug my flash drive into that turns it into an .mp3 player. Practical, indeed.
  7. Artsonia: I chose Artsonia as the virtual gallery for hosting student's collaborative art projects in my blog entry Making Connections with Each Other to Synergize.
    1. In support of utilzing Artsonia:
    2. Artsonia is free, quite private, and is geared towards children and young adults ages 2-18. In fact, Artsonia claims to be the world's largest student-art museum on the Internet and features artwork from over 20,000 students in 90 countries (Felton 24). Remarkably, following the 9/11 attacks, Artsonia initiated a special art collection on the theme, "Drawing Together: Kids Against Terrorism." While the gallery seems to have splintered off into various different areas, the collection featured student artwork from all over the world. According to the article, "Transcending Tragedy," a collection such as this can act as "a tool of reassurance and comfort for individual artists as well as teachers and worldwide viewers. The images and words reestablish the human dialogue..." (Id., 25).
    3. Artsonia is also a social website, in that an artist can have fans, family members of artists and purchase merchandise (cups, ceramic tiles, magnets and more) featuring the artist's work (a percentage of the sales are given to the student's school), and anyone can use artwork on free e-cards. Therefore, student artwork featured on Artsonia could be considered both public and participatory. In her article, "A Real Community Bridge: Informing Community-Based Learning through a Model of Participatory Public Art." Pamela G. Stephens explores the value of participatory public art, using a key example artpiece created by artist, William Cochran. Stephens concludes that "Placing participatory public art at the center of community-based learning helps students tap into their imaginations and turn that curiosity into useable knowledge.When William Cochran undertook the Community Bridge mural project, he placed the community in the role of learner, providing a group dynamic that resonated across social, cultural, and economic barriers to find a common ground that was later represented in the artwork.The benefits of such learning are manifold to the learner and the community at large," (46).
    4. In April, 2007, T.H.E. Journal featured an article entitled, "E-portfolios: Making Things E-asy." The article follows the efforts of a Rhode Island teacher, Amy Weigand, who came to a trouble school after having used E-portfolios in a previous teaching position. The article provides many compelling reasons for student artwork to be hosted online in a personal portfolio. In her own words, Weigand was quoted as saying, "'Most people think of electronic portfolios logistically, as just a better way to collect and organize student work. And they are that, for sure. They provide good storage, they can be used for grading purposes, and they can be used to demonstrate proficiency. But I’m using the technology now as both a resource for student and teacher collaboration, and as a powerful motivator for the students, who get to do something amazing.' She pauses for emphasis. 'Publish their work,'" (Waters). To provide more insight on what is meant by the term "e-portfolio," the article explains that, "E-portfolios differ from other similar digital systems. They are not merely an account of one’s own history, like an electronic scrapbook, or a personal space for expression, like a blog. E-portfolios are designed specifically to highlight skills, represent work, and organize information. Teachers and students use them to collect audio, video, graphics, and textual “artifacts,” such as work samples, assessments, resumes, lesson plans, and personal reflections," (Id.). While it looks like Artsonia limits contributions to image files, the files will be hosted for free virtually indefinitely, and could very well be utilized as an e-portfolio of sorts.
  8. Mindomo: While I did not directly integrate Mindomo (a free web-based mindmapping/clustering tool), I did use it for recording notes on a radio interview Shaun Tan participated in (refer to Resources: Shaun Tan and The Arrival/ Stone, Grant. "In Conversation: (Podcast Interview with Shaun Tan)." OzComics. Nov. 2006. 2 Dec. 2007...For a Mindomo Mindmap of notes I took while listening to this podcast, click here). Mindomo is flexible, fun and easy to use. While I did not feature Mindomo in my project blog, I did feature the use of a mindmap as an option for brainstorming thoughts about an illustration from The Arrival in the blog entry, We've Arrived!
  9. Google Maps: Connecting with Immigration in the Past features a Google Map to provide some visual context for students who choose to read visual images contained in the blog entry.
  10. I used for doing minimal edits of various screenshots, including trimming unnecessary elements like the navigator bar and resizing the image for use on my blog. I also used to create an example for how to fold and label a sheet of paper for the homework assignment featured in the blog entry, Connecting with Immigration in the Past. I also used to create the banner featured at the top of each blog page, depicting Shaun Tan and the cover of The Arrival in an ABAB pattern.
  11. Meebo: Meebo is a free, open source, in-browser instant messaging program that supports multiple IM services, including Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ, and Jabber. Meebo can also store chat logs. Another cool feature is the"Meebo Rooms" where Meebo useres can connect to chat rooms and/or host their own where multiple friends can join and chat. Meebo also supports file transfers between users. In addition, Meebo allows for the use applications of MeBeam Video Conferencing, Pudding Media Voice Chat, TokBox Video/Audio Calling, TalkShoeGroup Voice Calling, and Live Broadcasting. Lastly, Meebo open API enables users to use and/or create applications.

Works Consulted

Fass, Allison. "Sex, Pranks and Reality." Forbes 80:1 (July 2007): 48. EBSCOHost, Academic Search Premier. IUPUI Univ. Libs., Indianapolis. 7 Dec. 2007.

Felton, Ruth and Jerome J. Hausman. "Transcending Tragedy." Arts & Activities 130: 5 (2002):24-27. EBSCOHost, Professional Development Collection. IUPUI Univ. Libs., Indianapolis. 2 Dec. 2007.

Kirby, Elizabeth and Brenda Kaillio. "Student Blogs Mark a New Frontier for School Discipline." The Education Digest 72:5 (Jan. 2007): 16-23. WilsonWeb. IUPUI Univ. Libs., Indianapolis. 7 Dec. 2007.

Samuels, Christina A. "Online Support Seen for Youths With Learning Disabilities." Education Week (Online). 27 Feb. 2007. 2 Dec. 2007. (Free Site Registration Required).

Stephens, Pamela G. "A Real Community Bridge: Informing Community-Based Learning through a Model of Participatory Public Art." Art Education 59:2 (March 2006): 40-6. IUPUI Univ. Libs., Indianapolis. 2 Dec. 2007.

Waters, John K.. "E-portfolios: Making Things E-asy." T.H.E. Journal. 34:4. Apr. 2007. 2 Dec. 2007.